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Sunday, October 08, 2017 1:00 am

Where is the line?

It's always the right time to discuss lifesaving laws

Mark Kelly

Hear him

Capt. Mark Kelly kicks off IPFW's Omnibus Lecture Series at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Rhinehart Music Center on campus.

Although all tickets have been reserved, the box office has a waiting list in the event any tickets are returned. There also will be a standby line to claim any open seats, which will be released five minutes before the start of the event.

To be put on the waiting list for unclaimed tickets, visit the Larson Ticket Office inside the Gates Athletics Center or call 260-481-6555.

Sunday night started out as a beautiful evening in Las Vegas, with music in the air and the lights of the Strip mingling with stars. At least 59 people lost their lives at such a uniquely American scene, and more than 500 were injured. Thousands more will fight emotional scars, and tens of thousands will grieve and question along with them. The phenomena of the mass shooting – and the political paralysis that follows us – are sadly also a uniquely American scene. But it doesn't have to be this way.

Americans are 25times more likely to be killed by a gun than people in other developed nations. More than 100,000 people are shot each year, 33,000 of those fatally. We can offer thoughts and prayers and move on through life numb to these losses. We can accept this galling reality. We can assume that other people – like my wife, former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords– will pay the price for our status quo. We can accept the enormous social, moral and economic cost imposed by accepting gun violence as simply the cost of living in America.

Or we can choose courage instead of cowardice. I flew combat missions in Operation Desert Storm, orbited the earth 854 times as a NASA astronaut and wake up every morning next to Gabby, the toughest human I've ever met. I choose courage every time. So what do we do?

First, we must recognize just how entrenched the problem is. In the last few weeks, Congress was actually pursuing looser gun laws. There's no reason to make gun laws less restrictive. We can't go backward on gun laws.

But even on our toughest days, we're optimists. And if we want to make our country safer, we can't just work to defeat bad legislation. We also need to push for solutions that keep extremely deadly weapons out of the wrong hands.

That means we need to demand leadership from the people elected to lead.

Americans need more than President Donald Trump's prayers – we need his plans. We need a Congress that will stand up to the special interests, look at the research and act to save lives. Public safety must be our top priority.

Not the right time to talk about politics? Gabby and I have come to reject this. Every day since the shooting, Gabby has honored those hurt and killed alongside her by working to enact policies that will prevent others from experiencing this terrible pain. Gabby got into politics because she wanted to govern. The people we elect can take us backward, condemning us to many more days when we wake up to more carnage and more lives lost – or if we make them, they will take us forward, toward a safer country.

No one gun law will prevent every shooting, but we know these policies will work to reduce gun violence and save lives. We can't only react to the horror of what unfolded in Las Vegas; we must work to make all American communities safer. Here are a few things our leaders can and should do today:

• Pass universal background checks to make sure everyone gets a background check before they obtain a gun. Studies are clear: Where these laws are passed, fewer people get shot. And background checks aren't controversial: a recent poll found that 94 percent of Americans support background checks for all buyers.

• Subject the sale of the most lethal weapons to stronger oversight and regulation.

• Require guns to be safely secured in the homes of gun owners, so kids can't get their hands on them.

• Stop domestic abusers from getting guns. Women are too often killed by abusers with firearms. And most mass shootings start as domestic violence incidents.

• Allow restraining orders to stop folks in crisis from accessing firearms.

• Establish a federal firearms-trafficking statute to stop the illegal trafficking of guns from states with weak laws to states with strong laws.

• Require the Centers for Disease Control and our public health agencies to invest in preventing gun deaths and injuries – as we do for every other similar cause of death and injury. For 20 years, Congress has effectively banned the study of gun violence due to pressure from the gun lobby.

• And as a first step, Congress should establish a special bipartisan commission to come together around solutions that will save lives.

This could finally be a heroic moment of progress for our elected leaders. But it would mean looking into the face of deep-pocketed special interests and saying: Today, we're choosing Americans. It means channeling the bravery and determination of first responders, and the bravery and determination of people like Gabby, who fight through the emotional and physical pain of gun violence every day. Thoughts and prayers are important. But they won't stop the next shooting. Only courage and leadership will save us.

Mark Kelly is a Navy combat veteran, retired astronaut and co-founder with his wife, Gabrielle Giffords, of Americans for Responsible Solutions. He wrote this for the Washington Post.